George Shultz's passing Feb. 6 — at 100 years of age no less — was a sad moment for me. Schultz was secretary of state for six and a half years in the 1980s when I was a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, so we interacted with some frequency.
At one point Shultz had a trip to the Kremlin in Moscow planned — I forget for what purpose — but some of the Senate foreign relations cold warriors disapproved. So a nonbinding "Sense of the Senate" resolution was offered objecting to Shultz's trip and came up for a Senate vote.
It was unusual vote. The legislative branch really has no authority to direct the travels of an executive branch Cabinet officer. I liked Shultz and I thought he knew when and where he should go to advance his diplomatic work. So I voted against the resolution.
When, some while later, I visited George in his office, I had forgotten about that vote. But he opened his desk drawer, whipped out a Senate voting tally, and approvingly noted my vote. It was clear that he didn't like senators telling him what to do.
People in Washington keep track of things.
Shultz was the fourth secretary of state with whom I served in my first four Senate years. Cyrus Vance, Edmund Muskie and Alexander Haig had preceded him. Shultz came in at a tumultuous moment and calmed things down.
Friendly and approachable, he was also tough as nails when the situation demanded it, and of his strongest attributes was a clear and accurate sense of right and wrong. He met often with his Russian counterparts, particularly Eduard Shevardnadze, who Mikhail Gorbachev brought on in 1985 to replace the long-serving (28 years), very acerbic Andrei Gromyko.
Gromyko had met his match with Shultz. Shultz would start every meeting with Gromyko by bringing up the name of a "prisoner of conscience" the Soviets held. Gromyko didn't like that and said so. Shultz was undeterred.
In a position that changed hands frequently, Shultz served for a very solid six and a half years, the third-longest stretch of any secretary of state in the 20th century. And he made a difference.
He got on well with President Ronald Reagan and he knew who was the boss. He had met Reagan when the then-governor of California sought out Shultz because of his long and wide experience in the federal government, in which Reagan was taking more than a passing interest.
George had started on President Dwight Eisenhower's Council of Economic Advisers, and then served under Richard Nixon as secretary of labor, the first head of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and finally as secretary of the treasury.
Many thought that George had a contentious relationship with Caspar "Cap" Weinberger, Reagan's secretary of defense for all eight years of his presidency. As a persistent supporter for a strong defense, I liked them both. Cap had worked under George both at OMB and at Bechtel, where George was CEO. From my vantage point I thought George and Cap may have differed but together made things work and served Reagan well.
What a life George lived. Before his government service, he was dean of the University of Chicago's Business School at the time Milton Friedman was there along with other economics professors who one after another formed a most unusual parade of Nobel laureates.
When finally he became secretary of state, the role in which I knew him, he played a pivotal role in ending the Cold War. I thought I would spend all my days with the Soviet Communists as our principal adversary. But Reagan plus Shultz (and others) ended the Cold War "without firing a shot," as British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher famously said.
They changed the world and they did so peacefully.
And then George didn't stop. He kept a busy daily schedule at his Hoover Institution Office until he was 99. Then the pandemic was upon us and even George had to slow down.
George Shultz lived to 100, a long life lived so very well.
Rudy Boschwitz represented Minnesota in the U.S. Senate from 1978-91.